Afternoon Headlines May 22, 2017

Bad news for JeffCo children and parents: Jeffco Public Schools district handed out more suspensions to young students than any other Colorado district last school year, data shows.

A data review by Chalkbeat Colorado found that the 86,000-student district, Colorado’s second largest, gave nearly 700 out-of-school suspensions to students in kindergarten through second-grade last school year. That’s an average of four suspensions every school day.

Neighboring Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district at 91,000 students, handed out 500 suspensions in those grade levels during the same period. Affluent Douglas County, the state’s third largest district, gave out just 77.

Among the state’s 10 largest districts, Colorado Springs District 11 actually hands out the most suspensions per capita in its young population, with an average of 1 in every 14 students. JeffCo and Adams 12 districts are close behind.

Dave Kollar, director of JeffCo’s student engagement office, said he’s “certainly not happy” about the early elementary suspension numbers. But he believes they’ll drop as various efforts, including training on restorative justice and cultural awareness, take hold in district schools.

“Any time kids are out of class, that’s not where we want them to be,” he says.

More than 80 schools serve kindergarten through second-grade students in Jeffco, and suspension rates range widely among them. A handful of schools didn’t suspend a single child last year, while five schools gave out dozens of suspensions.

As is the case in districts across the state and nation, Jeffco’s early elementary suspensions are disproportionately given out to boys and Hispanic and black students.

In March, Denver Public Schools announced a new policy that would eliminate suspensions and expulsions of preschool through third-grade students except for the most serious incidents. The policy, which still must be finalized, is set to take effect July 1.

Consumer watchdogs are warning Coloradans to beware of subprime installment loans that carry exorbitant finance fees, are padded with high-priced but low-value insurance add-ons, and can result in high rates of defaults and bankruptcies.

Subprime installment loans typically are for amounts higher than payday loans but far lower than mortgages or home refinance packages. The Denver-based Colorado Center for Law and Policy took a close look defaults of loans made in Denver by OneMain, the largest subprime installment lender in the nation and by far the biggest player in Colorado’s subprime lending sector.

The center found that 75 percent of those loans included expensive loan insurance costs that amounted to an average of 18 percent – or $1,200 – increase in the total cost of a loan. Those loan products are sold by a company OneMain owns. Nearly 80 percent of borrowers agreed to add-ons, which the center suggests “are optional in name but predatory in nature.”

Nearly half of the Denver default cases examined were renewals of prior loans and rolled over into a new loan in a practice known as “default masking.”

More than half of those Denver borrowers had their wages garnished by OneMain and 43 percent filed for bankruptcy – typically after the company filed against them in court.

OneMain representatives did not respond to email seeking comment.

“State lawmakers, regulators and consumer advocates must keep careful watch that the profit motive of an already highly profitable industry does not override consumer protections vital to Coloradans,” the center is urging in a report released this month.

Colorado environmental, human rights and social justice groups are suing a federal agency to block the construction of hiking, biking and equestrian trails and a visitor center at Rocky Flats, the former nuclear weapons plant about 15 miles northwest of Denver.

The lawsuit, filed last week by groups including the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and Rocky Flats Right to Know, claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not complete an up-to-date environmental analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The last environmental review was conducted more than 12 years ago.

Boulder attorney Randall Weiner, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the agency is “virtually thumbing its nose at its obligations to consider the risks its plans pose to the public.” Weiner says the agency has “waited too long” to comply with the requirements of the environmental policy act.

Rocky Flats manufactured plutonium components for nuclear weapons for nearly 50 years beginning in 1953. In 1989, the FBI raided the facility and found operators in violation of environmental laws. After more than a decade of cleanup, during which it was classified as an EPA Superfund site, Rocky Flats was established as a national wildlife refuge in 2007.

The plaintiffs, whose groups include several career scientists, say that cleanup efforts were insufficient, and that the refuge thus remains unsafe for public use. The plutonium-contaminated building materials from the original plant are covered with” little more than dirt,” they say, and “such dirt is continually brought to the surface by burrowing animals, where winds of up to 90 mph can suspend surface contaminants and deposit them onto Rocky Flats’ visitors, and throughout the region.”

The suit alleges that “Rocky Flats is among the nation’s most polluted places.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told The Colorado Independent it does not comment on pending litigation.

The Colorado Independent this week was all over a story involving the governor, the attorney general, the oil and gas industry and a recent court ruling that brought them all together.

It was enough to fill webpages full of reporting— and plenty ended up on the cutting room floor. That’s where The Indy’s new weekly podcast comes in. It’s a place where readers of the nonprofit news site can hear some stories behind the stories and news nuggets that didn’t make it into print.

In the debut podcast, Indy reporters Corey Hutchins and Kelsey Ray talked about oil and gas— a topic that has dominated Colorado news since mid-April when a home in Firestone exploded because of an improperly abandoned Anadarko Petroleum pipeline. They talk about Kelsey’s investigation, “Reckless Abandonment,” into how little state regulators know about older oil and gas infrastructure, and about the tensions between a state commission’s original mission to “foster” oil and gas development and its mandate to protect the health and safety of Coloradans in neighborhoods, like the one in Firestone.

Find the podcast each Friday at

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